The Environmental Protection Agency announced new regulations for the energy industry on Friday which will limit, for the first time, the amount of carbon that gas- and coal-fired plants can emit into the atmosphere.
And though many of the larger environmental groups in the country welcomed the new restrictions, more critical observers of the EPA announcement argue the rules don't go far enough in terms of limiting emissions. Meanwhile the Obama administration, in fact, is preparing to use huge amounts of public money to prop up the U.S. coal industry.
Such a scheme, according to one critic, "will make only modest cuts to power plant emissions" at a moment in history when much more dramatic actions are needed.
The EPA is holding a 60-day public comment period on the rules, and if changes are not made, the new regulations would compel newly constructed plants to limit their carbon emissions to 1,100 lbs of carbon per megawatt hour of energy produced.
This limitation, specifically when it comes to new coal plants, would demand implementation of what is called "carbon capture and sequestration" systems that would, in theory, contain emissions by pumping the plant's pollution back into the ground.
However, the problem with this technology, as many experts have said: it simply doesn't exist.
This, in many ways, is why many of the larger green groups, including NRDC and Sierra Club, spent much of Friday championing the announcement. If the technology is unproven, then the plant owners cannot meet the standard, and the welcome result is that no new coal plants can be built.
"Obama is not launching a war on coal. He’s bending over backwards to keep coal viable." - Bill Scher, Campaign for America's Future
"No longer will new electric plants be allowed to endanger our health with unchecked carbon pollution and the climate change it causes," said NRDC president Frances Beinecke in a laudatory statement after the EPA rule was announced. "Instead, our nation can start creating a 21st century power fleet—one that uses the latest clean technologies and reduces the threat of climate change."
“The EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards will protect Americans from dangerous air pollution, protect our communities from harmful carbon pollution, and strengthen our economy with clean energy jobs.," said Nia Martin-Robinson, an organizer with Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
But, of course, there's a catch.
Pushing back against the idea the Obama has somehow initiated a "war against coal"—an argument used by Republicans and Conservatives to blast the new rules and conversely used by groups like NRDC and Sierra to champion them—the Campaign for America's Future Bob Scher asked his readers to take a closer look at the proposal.
Citing New York Times reporting which shows the Obama administration plans to support the fossil fuel industry with "as much as $8 billion" in order to help it build the "cleaner" plants the rules will require, Scher concludes that "Obama is not launching a war on coal. He’s bending over backwards to keep coal viable."
And the Center for Biological Diversity, striking a much more adversarial tone than its larger environmental colleagues, declared the EPA rules and Obama's effort are far too imperfect to adequately address the climate crisis facing the country and the planet.
“If we’re really serious about tackling the climate crisis – and morality dictates that we must be – we just have to do more than this,” said Bill Snape, the Center’s senior counsel. “That means a stronger rule for power plants and other serious measures that lead to deep cuts in greenhouse emissions.”
“If we’re really serious about tackling the climate crisis – and morality dictates that we must be – we just have to do more than this.” -Bill Snape, Center for Biological Diversity
According to CBD, the EPA announcement is aimed at fulfilling the Obama administration’s pledge to put the United States on the path to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. But such a reduction, the groups says, falls far short of what the U.S. pledged in the Kyoto Protocol and would not be enough to avert catastrophic temperature increases, sea level rise, droughts, floods and other climate disruption.
“These modest measures to cut power plant pollution are not enough to address the worsening climate crisis,” Snape said. “We see the signs of climate chaos around us every day, whether it’s catastrophic storms or shattered temperature records. If we don’t get our act together now and make serious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, we’ll put our country at risk and damage our climate beyond the ability of future generations to repair.”
As Associated Press reports, the proposed rule "won't immediately affect plants already operating, it eventually would force the government to limit emissions from the existing power plant fleet, which accounts for a third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions."
The EPA will not touch those emissions until next summer when a new set of rules are expected to be released.